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I expect that you have already completed a course in Introductory Psychology, as well as at least one other course in psychology (I particularly recommend Research Methods, Social Psychology, Biological Psychology, or Personality Psychology). I do not check to be sure this has occurred, but I do assume that you are familiar with the broad foundation of psychology.

BYU Psychology Program Learning Outcomes

Students will identify and describe the major forms of psychological disorders and the major theories regarding the classification, etiology, and treatment of psychological disorders,and current data relevant to such theories.

Course Learning Outcomes

When you complete this course, you should be able to:

  1. Be familiar with an overview of abnormal behavior and mental disorders.
  2. Understand and describe symptoms, causes, and dynamics of these problems.
  3. Discuss other mental-health issues, such as treatment.

How to Approach This Course

Most people who take this course find it both engaging and difficult. The material is naturally interesting, the book is filled with case studies, and the information is relevant to your own experience—especially to those entering helping professions. Even so, it is challenging for several reasons:

  1. As an upper-division course in psychology, it sets the same high standard for mastery of the material as the regular college course.
  2. Information in the field is exploding, and the principles that tie it together are complex and diverse, so there is simply a lot to learn.
  3. Class discussion and media examples are helpful to many people to contextualize the many facts presented in the book, but these are not as available in an Independent Study course.
  4. Simply put, the material is complex.

In spite of this high standard, in my experience most people study hard and do quite well.

Let me suggest a few principles to maximize your effectiveness:

  1. Pace yourself. You should work steadily on the course because the ideas build upon one another. A healthy immersion in the subject matter will get you thinking in new ways and observing how textbook principles play out in the lives of people around you. On the other hand, rushing through the course is a very bad idea. Taking a lesson assignment right after reading a chapter might give you a decent score on that assignment, but will not set the information deeply enough into your memory to let you perform well on the exams or to retain the material after you finish the course. For the typical person a good pace might be one lesson every 5-7 days. Similarly, you will be better off working on your lesson every day or two, rather than trying to do a lot in one day every week or two.
  2. Use good study habits. Don’t just read the material (or worse yet, just skim it). Use a proven method for learning. For example, the SQ3R method is useful: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review. Try applying the information to people you know, what you read in the newspaper, and the like—not only is this a good study suggestion, but it also makes the material more relevant and interesting. Try to answer every practice question you can get your hands on, and then figure out why the correct answer is correct. Jot down key facts, and then commit them to memory.
  3. Organize the information. The information is voluminous at times, and I want you to learn as much of it as possible. The textbook is pretty good at organizing data so that the most important principles stand out, and I try to especially do that in the “Lecture” material as well, but it is still a challenge to know what to remember. As you read, I recommend you highlight key information and take notes. This forms the basis for your reviews, after which you should have a friend quiz you on your notes and highlighting.
  4. Don’t take Self Check or lesson assignments just after your initial reading of the chapter or lecture. Yes, the information feels the most fresh then, but it will not be an accurate check of your understanding or retention. Come back to the material later, do a review, and then try the Self Check questions.
  5. Be prepared for examinations. I sometimes find that people are frustrated to find the examinations seem harder than the lesson assignments. In fact, the difficulty of the questions is about identical. However, two things are different: (a) the examinations are each an accumulation of half of the course content and so require much broader retention; and, (b) the lesson assignments are open book, whereas the examinations are closed book. If you find that you have to look up a lot of information to do well on the lesson assignment, you are not yet ready for the exams; go back and try them (and the self check questions) again without using the textbook to see how you are coming on retention. Also note that lesson assignments and examinations use a mixture of questions testing principles and facts—often a combination of both in a single question. With so much information in the book, the questions necessarily represent only a sample of what I could ask; the sampling will differ somewhat between the assignments and the exams, so assuming that I will ask on exams only about facts included in the assignments is a risky approach.
  6. Appreciate the specificity of examinations. By this, I don’t mean you have to like it, but you have to accept that I expect you to know a lot of facts. If you have only a general idea about some issue, you might get by, but my examination questions are designed to push you beyond that. At the same time, I try to never ask a question about information that is obscure or unimportant; I hope that most questions are about information that stands out to the average reader, with a few harder ones to reward the most thorough students.
  7. Take the writing assignments seriously. The three essays are paper assignments. Even though the recommended length is reasonable, these should each be a real paper—thorough, organized, and well written. The purpose of each is for you to demonstrate that you can apply to particular situations those principles about which you have been reading. Your intuition about a topic might be great, but until you can explain it using the principles and language of the text and lecture, you have not met the purpose of the paper.

General Course Considerations

This course is an introduction to and overview of abnormal behavior and mental disorders. We will look primarily at symptoms, causes, and dynamics of these problems, although there will be some attention to other issues, such as treatment. Because of the large variety of material covered we have to move briskly, without going into much detail in some areas. Lecture material in the study guide is not always intended to cover the same material as the readings, although there is usually some overlap. The lectures will expand on some points and primarily focus on major areas. Occasionally I have little to add to the textbook material, so the lecture is brief.

Cheating of any kind will result in a lowered grade for the test and may result in a lowered grade for the course and in other University sanctions. Remember that cheating includes any form of using the work of others when it should be your own: for example, borrowing other’s written work to help you with yours and discussing questions on an examination with those who have already taken it. The University’s statement on academic honesty is found at the Honor Code Office website.

Differences between the Online Course and the In-class Course

Aside from the obvious differences (such as lack of class discussion) this course differs from my in-class Abnormal Psychology course in two respects.

First, there is a Psychology Department requirement for a field work component which is not practical in this course. That is unfortunate, because many students report field work is one of the most positive events of their college experience. I highly recommend that you take an opportunity (if it is available) for volunteer work that exposes you to populations about which you are reading.

Second, in my on-campus course I require an ongoing search for media events that include mental-illness issues, with a required portfolio at the end of the course. The portfolio is impractical in Independent Study, but you can be actively involved in the media activity. Good sources are newspapers (especially on the day of the week they do science reports), news magazines (e.g., Time, Newsweek), and occasionally television (especially the news or programs like 60 Minutes and Dateline), or even movies. Post the examples you find in the course Discussion Board in the Course Resources module.

Course Materials

The textbook for this course is:

Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach, by Barlow & Durand, 7th Ed. Wadsworth/Cengage, 2015.

You will note from the organization of the lessons that I mostly follow the textbook as written. However, I expand in a couple of places, as well as change the sequence of material a couple of times. At the beginning of each lesson is a section called “Assignments,” Step 1 always includes a description of which parts of the textbook to read for that lesson. Follow it closely. Step 2 usually directs you to watch the portions of the optional website for that lesson.

Internet Resources

Internet resources can be helpful. There are also many helpful sites about mental illness in general and about specific disorders. However, I encourage caution—as with all Internet resources, some sites can be inaccurate or misleading.

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Before completing assignments or taking examinations, you can test your knowledge of the material with the Self Check questions in each lesson. Most of these questions are similar to those in the graded assignments and the exams, but some are short-answer or essay questions intended to encourage you to think about the material you have read. These questions do not count toward your grade.

Lesson Assignments

At the end of each lesson is a graded assignment. Most of these are “Lesson Assignments,” which are multiple-choice assignments covering only the material for that lesson. These questions do count towards your grade.


For three of the lessons, you will write a paper on an assigned topic. You will submit your completed essays electronically through your course. To make sure that I can open and read your papers, please save them as Word .DOC or .DOCX files. Include the course name, your name, and the assignment name in the filname, like this: PSYCH342_JaneSmith_Essay1.docx.

Note: Because your papers are instructor-graded, you will receive feedback more slowly. These assignments also count towards your grade.

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There are two examinations, a midcourse and a final, each covering half of the course material. They represent almost half of your grade, so prepare well.

Examinations, as samples, are always imperfect measures of your learning. Even so, I do my best to make mine fair. I believe the answer to any question should not turn on an obscure point, but I think you should have more than a vague idea. Questions, then, often have choices that test your understanding of distinctions within the broader issue. Lecture emphasis is a good gauge of topics I find important to understand. However, in lectures I often emphasize understanding of broad points, letting the book fill in details. Those who do best with my questions pay attention to topics and issues I consider important, then look to the book for details. The exams aren’t easy, but if you prepare well, you can get good grades.

Note: You must pass the final exam to pass the course.


Grading is based on two exams, fifteen lesson assignments, and three essays, according to this breakdown:

15 Lesson Assignments 1% each 15%
3 Essays 15% each 45%
Midcourse Exam   20%
Final Exam   20%

Both lesson and exam questions are multiple-choice. Exams are not cumulative; each covers half of the course content. Information from the textbook readings and "lectures" are both represented on exams, weighted about proportional to their respective lengths.

Grade Scale

Your course grade is based on these percentages:

A 100–94
A- 93–90
B+ 89–87
B 86–84
B- 83–80
C+ 79–76
C 75–72
C- 71–69
D+ 68–65
D 64–62
D- 61–50
E (fail) 49 or below

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Copyright Notice

The materials used in connection with this online course are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws. For questions or more information, please visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.

“Members of the BYU community who willfully disregard this Copyright Policy or the BYU Copyright Guidelines place themselves individually at risk of legal action and may incur personal liability for their conduct. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject individuals to civil and criminal liabilities, including actual and statutory damages, costs and fees of litigation, fines, and imprisonment

Violations of the Copyright Policy may result in university disciplinary action including termination of university enrollment or employment.” (Emphasis added. Excerpt taken from the BYU Copyright Policy)

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University Policy - Title IX Statement

Preventing & Responding to Sexual Misconduct

In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment—including sexual violence—committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "Sexual Misconduct" prohibited by the university.

University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at t9coordinator@byu.edu or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at https://titleix.byu.edu/report or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).

BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university’s Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at http://titleix.byu.edu or by contacting the university’s Title IX Coordinator.

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Accessibility Notice

BYU is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere which reasonably accommodates persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in BYU's programs and activities. In this spirit, BYU Independent Study aspires to improve web accessibility for users. While not required by law, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA provide a wide range of helpful recommendations to make Web content more accessible. BYU Independent Study strives to apply WCAG 2.0 recommendations where feasible, but may deviate from any recommendations that would result in an undue hardship to BYU Independent Study or alterations to program and course content and objectives. If you have questions about accessibility, or if you need to report problems with any accessibility features please see our Accessibilities and Accommodations Web Page.

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